Friday, October 1, 2010

Got Research? Governor Christie and CEO Geoffrey Canada Come to Hoboken to Speak About Merit Pay, Charter Schools and other Myths

Katie Colaneri of The Jersey Journal reports on September 30, 2010 that: The Christie Administration brought the conversation to Hoboken, NJ today at the Elysian Charter School which is considered among the best charter schools in the state and serves 288 children in grades K-8. "We've been meeting AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) annually," said Kenneth Nielsen, president of the school's Board of Directors. "Our students are succeeding." However, Nielsen added that funding for the school could be better, especially in the wake of the two-year, state-mandated freeze on charter school budgets. More.

Let's take a closer looks at events including the Governor's recent national exposure on Oprah as well as the recent slamming of public schools and the attacking of public schools using charter schools as (mostly) unwilling battering rams.

1) A recent report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education (the one that identified Geoffrey Canada's work with the Harlem's Children Zone) also found that Newark — had the highest graduation rate for black males of any major city in the country. Far better than that of Washington, D.C., a system headed by Michelle Rhee, whom Winfrey not so subtly suggested should become the next superintendent of Newark’s schools. All the while Mr. Canada remained silent on the show-- even though writing the forward to the recent study entitled "Yes We Can"-- which states, "The New Jersey graduation statistics show the progress in closing the achievement gap that can be made if black male students have an equal opportunity to learn. For example, the increased resources from Abbott vs. Burke funding in New Jersey, which became effective in 2003, have allowed the much-maligned Newark school district to nearly close the gap for Black males with national white male graduation rates. Unfortunately, states like New Jersey … are still the exceptions.” (reported by Bob Braun- Star-Ledger). See full report below:

2) Governor Christie has been touting "merit pay" at every opportunity. This is based much more on his own uninformed notions of merit pay and attacks on teacher tenure than based on what research clearly shows. In the most extensive study on merit pay using scientifically rigorous methodologies, Vanderbilt University (ranked in the top 3 Universities in this area in the country) offered between $5,000 and $15,000 to Nashville math teachers whose students scored higher than expected on a statewide exam. This is MUCH more merit pay than Governor Christie has proposed. The results? The incentives were a bust. Students did not progress any faster in classrooms where teachers were offered merit based bonuses. Citing the Vanderbilt study, education historian and New York University professor Diane Ravitch said merit pay is a "pointless waste of money" that "will not improve student performance" and "will destroy collaboration among teachers." (See more by Jessica Calefati of The Star-Ledger). Nonetheless, Governor Christie continues marching forward...disregarding or ignoring scientific research to the contrary. See full report below:

3) And, as for Kenneth Nielsen who points out that "his students are succeeding"--- a little closer look at his charter school (see photo) indicates simply that Elysian Charter's population does not come close to replicating the population of the public schools in the city in which it is based (Hoboken, NJ). Only 27% of Elysian's student population comes from families who qualify for "free or reduced lunch"-- compared to Hoboken Public Schools with populations of "free or reduced lunch" as high as 91% (See chart above.). In addition, Elysian Charter School has 36 full time teachers for 270 students, a teacher: student ratio of 7.5 to 1. In addition, 8th grade scores in the Hoboken School District were HIGHER than Elysian Charter School's test scores. Are these ratio's and test results consistent with what the Governor would like to see replicated across the state and nation?

To summarize:
1) Newark Public Schools had documented success that went unrecognized on the Oprah Show. Either Governor Christie was ignorant of this information or he choose not to recognize it. Christie's colleague, Mr. Canada, knew full well of the findings concerning Newark Public Schools but choose not to mention this on the Oprah Show. By the way, 2/3 of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone funding comes from private sources. This effectively and for all practical purposes makes CEO Canada's school a highly resourced private school and not a publicly funded charter school as is popularly discussed in political propaganda and the mass media.

2) Merit pay has been shown via the most rigorous and scientifically valid research to be ineffective and may actually have harmful effects on student learning and teacher performance.

3) Elysian Charter School, where this town meeting took place, is the least ethnically and economically diverse school in the the town in which it resides. They also have a low teacher to student ratio and do not perform as well as the public schools in their city.

4) Stanford University researchers have shown that students in charter schools are not faring as well as students in traditional public schools. Mr. Canada is doing wonderful things--- but you can not use single case success stories to inform broad educational policy reform.

How much longer will politicians insist on ignoring scientifically based research from the top universities in this country about what REALLY works in terms of school reform? How long will the media and talk shows do the same? I think politicians depend on a largely uninformed general public. Hopefully, this information will shed some light on the issues.

Picture: Gov. Chris Christie, right, listens to Geoffrey Canada, Founder and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, during a conversation on Christie's education reform agenda at Elysian Charter School in Hoboken Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010. Doug Bauman/The Jersey Journal